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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 3, 2007

Murley will keep benefits Chief hands in his badge

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — Reversing an earlier vow to fight charges of wrongdoing, Guilderland’s beleaguered police chief is retiring.

Thirty-five years of service will come to an end on May 30 for James Murley.

Amidst allegations of misconduct and an upcoming hearing that could have removed him from the police force, Murley, 61, will retire as police chief by the end of the month.

After an hour-long closed-door executive session following Tuesday night’s town board meeting, Supervisor Kenneth Runion told reporters "an agreement" was made regarding Murley’s future with the town.

The deal struck with the town allows Murley to keep his retirement benefits from his $97,000 post, as well as his accrued vacation time. Runion said Murley ended official association with the police department last Friday, and will retire on May 30. The New York State Comptroller’s Office confirmed that it has received Murley’s retirement notification.

He is using his remaining vacation days until that time, Runion said

According to the town’s attorney, Richard Sherwood, the agreement was finalized last Friday after attorneys began talking on "either Wednesday or Thursday." Murley’s attorney in the proceeding, William J. Cade, is out of town for the next week and could not be reached for comment.

The town hired Brian O’Donnell to represent Guilderland during the case.

When Murley was first suspended in March, Cade told The Enterprise the charges were unfounded and vowed to fight the proceedings. He said then that Murley had no plans to retire.

Murley was charged with sexual harassment, misconduct with a vendor, violation of the town’s ethics law, and not keeping accurate attendance and leave records.

"I had contact with their office on another matter and that’s when we started talking about this," Sherwood said about Cade’s law firm. "We spent Thursday and Friday working out the details"It was a joint effort through the attorneys involved."

However, according to the office of Albany County District Attorney David Soares, Murley is still being investigated for criminal charges in the matter.

"The decision of Tuesday’s meeting has no impact on our investigation," said Soares’s spokeswoman, Heather Orth. "It’s still an ongoing investigation and our Public Integrity Unit is looking into criminal misconduct."

Runion told the Enterprise that the town’s hearing on Murley’s possible violations, which were scheduled for May 10, could have been used in the district attorney’s criminal investigation.

With Tuesday’s settlement, the town has dropped its proceedings against Murley.

"Best solution"

"There will be no formal hearing," Runion said. "Everyone on the board has agreed that this is the best solution."

Runion told the press Tuesday night that Murley had not gone unpunished. "He has suffered as a result of the allegations"He lost his job," said the supervisor.

Runion had said in March that, although Murley could avoid the hearing by retiring, but there could be penalties after retirement, through the town’s ethics law. But under a section 75 proceeding, only specific penalties could occur such as suspension without pay, a reprimand, a fine up to $100, or termination.

"The worse that could happen to him was termination under the proceeding," said Runion. "Retirement is the same thing"it’s basically as if you went through the hearing."

The town would save money having Murley retire, he said, which has already cost the town for attorney’s, a hearing officer, and other administrative costs.

Murley also lost a month of salary and benefits while he was on unpaid leave, said Runion, but he retained his medical benefits during that time.

Explaining further, Runion said that, even if Murley were found guilty on all of the administrative charges the town was investigating, he would still be entitled to his New York State retirement benefits.

"It is New York State law"It’s based on his years of service," Runion said on Tuesday.

This way, Runion continued, the town is spared a potentially lengthy, and costly, removal process if the hearing officer recommended firing Murley. Kevin Luibrand, a well-known local attorney, was selected by the town board to be the hearing officer in the proceedings.

All of the charges looked into by the town were strictly "administrative disciplinary matters," Runion said in March.

Murley was placed on paid administrative leave on Feb. 8 after a town department head lodged a complaint with the supervisor’s office on Feb. 5.

Since that time, the police department’s deputy chief of police, Carol Lawlor, has been running the police station. Lawlor had filled in for Murley in the past, when he was diagnosed with Lyme disease.

Runion would not say this week if Lawlor will be named as the new police chief, but only that the board would conduct a search for a chief following the Civil Service guidelines, which includes testing each qualified candidate.

The supervisor did not put a timeline on the search.

When asked, Lawlor said she would make a decision when the time came.

"That’s a decision that I will have to make when the town board is ready to start looking for someone," Lawlor told The Enterprise. "We’re just concentrating on doing our jobs to the best of our abilities right now."

Hearing officer attacked

Luibrand’s appointment was met with some controversy, but town officials maintained they were confident in their selection.

Attorney John Aretakis, an outspoken defender of victims abused by priests, was highly critical of Luibrand because his law firm, Tobin and Dempf, represents the Albany Diocese.

After writing two letters to the town, Aretakis filed a lawsuit against the town for $1 million on Monday. He cited in his notice of claim that his clients were being "damaged in an incalculable amount" because of "anxiety and triggering episodes" due to Luibrand’s appointment.

In a letter to the town yesterday, Aretakis said he is "not dropping the claim," even though there will be no hearing because Murley’s lawyer, Cade, also asked to have Luibrand removed.

Town Attorney Sherwood said yesterday that Cade didn’t want Luibrand presiding over the hearing because of a conflict of interest resulting from litigation that occurred 10 years ago.

In 1997, The Enterprise broke a series of stories involving political wrangling and allegations of abuses and cover-ups in Town Hall. Luibrand was defending a town employee against accusations of taped telephone conversations and fake letters to the Enterprise editor regarding Murley.

Some of the allegations against Murley then, such as misusing vacation and sick time, were similar to the charges lodged against him this year.

However, Sherwood said, the town did not see a conflict of interest because of a previous lawsuit.

Supervisor Runion said that neither Aretakis’s letters and lawsuit, nor Cade’s request to remove Luibrand from the proceedings had any impact or influence on the town board’s decision on Tuesday.

Luibrand maintained throughout that he was qualified for the job.

"I know all the aspects of these cases," Luibrand told The Enterprise after being selected as the hearing officer. Being a lawyer for more than 20 years, Luibrand has been a town attorney and has tried cases in both federal circuit courts and the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, he said.

Runion said it’s not uncommon for these types of cases to be settled before an actual hearing or trial occurs.

"The legal system actually encourages attorneys to talk with each other and try to come up with a settlement," said Runion, who was an attorney. "The system would be completely back logged if everything made it to the steps of a courthouse."

Debra Murley speaks
‘I am very proud of him’

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — When Guilderland started a police force 35 years ago, James Murley was one of it’s first officers.

His identity has been tied to his leadership role there.

"They even called him ‘Chief’ when he was just a young man," said his wife of 22 years, Debra Murley.

James Murley could not be reached for comment this week and many town officials declined to comment on his work.

"If nobody wants to say anything about his work, then I will," Debra Murley told The Enterprise. "I’m very proud of him and proud of his accomplishments"This has been very hard for us.

"He lived in Guilderland for 50 years. He loved his work and he loves this town," Mrs. Murley said

He always checked in with his office "on weekends, on vacation, and just about every night," she said, adding, "Even if he was driving up the street, and he saw something, he would call the office."

Mrs. Murley said she and her husband have lived in their home together since 1985 and have watched both the town and the police force grow over the years.

"He has a lot of character. He is a proud man," she said. "I’ve never been embarrassed by him, and I will never be embarrassed by him."

The recent charges, and now, his retirement, have been like losing a family, said Mrs. Murley.

"Jim cared deeply about his staff and the department was like a family to him, the office staff and the officers," she said. "He still feels that way and that is why this is so hard for him"not even being allowed to go on the town property he protected for over 30 years."

She said earlier that Murley had even given up walking his dog on the town park across from their house.

Mrs. Murley said that she couldn’t speak for her husband or about the investigation, but she did say, "He’s an honest man, who would never take anything in his life"He wouldn’t take a postage stamp from the town of Guilderland."

His work in the community was evident around the police station, she said.

"There were countless letters on the bulletin board in the office from people in the community, thanking the department"They spoke volumes of what is being done over there," said Mrs. Murley. "He took the time to personally write back to each and every letter. People used to ask if I helped him write them because I’m a writer, but I never did."

The one thing the chief never did, said his wife, was fix tickets or other "favors" for people.

"If someone asked him to fix a ticket or something, he would say, ‘I’ll help you pay for the ticket if you need it, but I won’t fix it for you,’" she said.

Mrs. Murley said her husband is very healthy and not the type to do "typical retirement stuff."

"He’s not the type to sit around or the kind to sit in the sun for the rest of his days and go fishing"although he does love to fly fish," she said. "He’ll find something to do with himself"Whatever he does, he’ll do really well at it."

Fire collapses two apartments

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — An early-morning fire at Woodlake Apartments caused damage to eight apartment units, and, although nobody was hurt, several people had to be permanently evacuated.

The Westmere Fire Department responded to a call at 2:41 a.m. on Monday at the apartment complex, according to the department’s fire chief, William Swartz.

"There was a real heavy smoke condition when we got there," Swartz told The Enterprise this week. "It was contained in under a half-hour, and then, within 10 minutes, unit five collapsed into unit six."

Several area fire departments also responded, he added, including McKownville, the Fort Hunter Firefighters Assist and Search Team, a Guilderland Fire Department squad truck, and Guilderland Center provided mutual-aid standby coverage.

"We ventilated the roof. I believe that’s what saved it," Swartz said about the limited damage to adjoining apartments.

"It was quick and we were able to apply direct water as a result. We actually saved the whole roof because of the one ventilation," he said.

The two apartments that collapsed into each other were the only ones that sustained significant damage, said Swartz; the other six apartments were only affected by water and smoke damage.

"Tri-City Rentals, who own the complex, are moving all of those residents to other apartments in their complex," Swartz said. "They pretty much took care of that the same day."

Swartz concluded by saying that all of the residents were safely evacuated and that no firefighters were hurt during the incident.

Guilderland School Board elections
Backed by endorsements and finances, teams formed

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Three Guilderland School Board candidates posted clusters of red and white campaign signs across town last week; this week, green and white signs are going up for a pair of candidates.

Incumbent Barbara Fraterrigo and first-time candidates Carolyn Kelly and John Fraher — an auditor and an accountant — are running together and posting the red signs.

Incumbent Colleen O’Connell and Gloria Towle-Hilt, a retiring teacher making her first run for the school board, are posting the green signs together.

The top three vote-getters in the May 15 election will win seats on the nine-member school board.

In one of the more heated races in the last decade, campaign finances have become an issue for the first time. Election signs make up the bulk of the spending.

Endorsements are also playing a role. O’Connell and Towle-Hilt are being supported by the teachers’ union, which for the first time this year offered $500 to each of the candidates it supports.

Fraterrigo, Fraher, and Kelly have been endorsed by Guilderland Parents Advocate, a group that founder Melissa Mirabile says has about 300 members. While the three have accepted the endorsement they have distanced themselves from what they term "negative" campaigning.

The Enterprise has received 20 letters in the last two weeks dealing with the school-board elections. Five letter-writers have backed O’Connell and Towle-Hilt as a team; Towle-Hilt also got three individual endorsements and O’Connell, two. Six have endorsed Fraher, Fraterrigo, and Kelly as a group.

Most of the letter-writers criticizing Towle-Hilt have said, because she will be a retired teacher, she would have a conflict of interest serving on the school board; a decision from the state education commissioner says otherwise.

Running in groups

School-board elections don’t involve political parties, but, in the past in Guilderland, two or three candidates have often run together, sometimes on slates with specific agendas or platforms.

While O’Connell and Towle-Hilt said from the start, just after candidates’ petitions were due on April 16, that they shared "a common philosophy" and were coordinating their campaigns, Kelly and Fraher, when initially asked by The Enterprise if they were running as part of a group, both said they were running independently.

Fraterrigo, who was out of the country for the past two weeks and could not be reached for comment earlier, told The Enterprise this week about how the group got together. "I’ve known Carolyn for years and encouraged her for years to run," said Fraterrigo of Kelly.

She said Kelly had hesitated to run this year because Fraterrigo was up for re-election. "I told her, ‘If you replace me, I’ll have no sleepless nights,’" said Fraterrigo, lauding Kelly’s qualifications.

"I didn’t know John," she said of Fraher. "He asked to meet with me. He said he’d followed me on the board...We talked over issues and found we were simpatico."

Fraterrigo said the trio gelled because of a "similar philosophy." "Carolyn, John, and myself are more the questioning type and willing to weigh and measure," said Fraterrigo.

Fraher told The Enterprise yesterday, when asked about his earlier response of running independently, "Things changed after you and I spoke"I met with Carolyn Kelly and Barbara and we found we were on the same page with most of the issues." He said this was "a couple of weeks ago."

Kelly said on Tuesday, "We saw what Colleen and Ms. Towle-Hilt were doing" and liked the idea.

She went on, "It’s not that we’re running together. We realized we think the same way."


"What can we expect from Colleen O’Connell when she has taken $500 in monetary support from the Guilderland Teachers’ Association"" asks Matt Nelligan, a Guilderland High School teacher and town resident, in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week.

As it turns out, O’Connell has accepted the support of the teachers’ union but not the money.

"I don’t need the money. I’m just not comfortable with it," O’Connell told The Enterprise on Tuesday.

Towle-Hilt has accepted both the endorsement and the funds from the GTA.

"It means they’re supporting me as an individual who thinks for herself," Towle-Hilt said. "No one has asked me how I stand on issues either way....I have a reputation for making the best possible choices for children."

O’Connell and Towle-Hilt each estimated they would be spending a little over $500 on their campaigns. Their signs each cost about $5, Towle-Hilt said, and each candidate said she had ordered 100. Each has also had palm cards with her picture printed to hand out to voters.

Similarly, Fraher said that he, like his running mates, had 100 signs made at $4 each, which he paid for "out of his own pocket."

"I have not incurred a nickle more," he said of expenses. He produced an election flyer on his own computer, he said.

Fraterrigo, too, said she had 100 signs made at $4 each. Beyond that, she said, her costs were "nothing substantial." She also made up a flyer which she printed off her own printer.

This is her fourth run for the board and Fraterrigo said there was increased pressure for publicity. "I never used signs before," she said. "I never spent anything."

"The bar seems to have been raised," said O’Connell of spending on campaign signs and brochures. "Because so many people are doing it, you feel you need to also."

State Education Law requires that candidates file forms with the district clerk on their campaign expenses. There is one form for those who spend under $500 and another for those who spend over that amount. Clerk Linda Livingston said on Tuesday that she had gotten only one form so far: Library trustee candidate Douglas Morrissey has spent less than $500 in his uncontested run.

The deadline for filing the forms, said Livingston, is May 5; a second form is due 20 days after the May 15 election.

Neil Sanders, the district’s assistant superintendent for business, said, "Typically, we get back a statement that they’ve spent less than $500." Spending more than that is "fairly rare," he said.

According to records reviewed by Sanders, in last year’s election, five candidates ran and just one reported spending over $500; Hy Dubowsky reported spending about $515.

The year before that, six candidates ran and, again, just one reported spending over $500; Peter Golden reported spending about $900.

Conflict of interest"

Over the years, several retired teachers have served on the Guilderland School Board, most recently Grace Serviss, a retired Guilderland social studies teacher.

In 1993, Thomas Sobol, then the state’s education commissioner, issued an opinion that indicates a retired teacher can serve on a school board.

The Washingtonville Central School District sought to remove Harriet Beers from the school board. She had retired as a teacher at Washingtonville in 1990 and was elected to the school board in 1991.

The school district argued that Beers received medical insurance benefits under a collective bargaining agreement and, since Beers must approve collective bargaining agreements with the teachers’ union, she should be barred from the school board under conflict-of-interest provisions of Education Law and General Municipal Law.

Education Law states, "No employee of a board of education may be a member of such board." Sobol ruled that, since Beers was no longer employed by the board, this did not apply to her.

General Municipal Law prohibits a municipal officer or employee from having an interest in a municipal contract where he or she has the power or duty to negotiate, prepare, authorize, or approve the contract. But the law also sets forth exceptions, specifically exempting from coverage "contract[s] with a membership corporation or other voluntary non-profit corporation or association."

Since the teachers’ union is a voluntary, non-profit association, Sobol found, Beers had no conflict of interest in being covered by a health-insurance plan paid by the district as part of a collective bargaining agreement with a non-profit union.

Union support

Chris Claus said that, in the five years he has been president of the Guilderland Teachers’ Association, the representatives’ council, an elected body that meets monthly, had decided to support candidates three times, counting this year.

New candidates for the school board — three this year — are sent surveys, Claus said; only Towle-Hilt returned one. Incumbents are known by their records.

This year, the council decided to offer support to Towle-Hilt and O’Connell, Claus said.

For the first time, the support also came with an offer of $500, he said. "We have money that is restricted in our budget from the political action arm of the New York State United Teachers," said Claus. "It can only be used for political activities. We thought we should use it."

Claus prefers the word "support" to describe the union’s backing of candidates rather than "endorse," which he said has political connotations.

"‘Support’ is a positive thing, offered as a gesture of positive feeling," said Claus. "Criticism or trash talk has absolutely no place in a school-board election." The candidates, he said, "are trying to perform a community service." He went on, "I would not offer criticism of the people we decided not to support."

Claus said there is always debate and discussion as to whether the GTA should support school-board candidates, and he said he does not believe Nelligan’s views "represent the majority of the teachers."

Claus spoke out on behalf of the teachers at a February school-board meeting.

After several parents complained to the school board that the district had failed to teach their children to read and some school board members demanded answers, Claus told the board that response "sent a chilling message of distrust and has provoked fear in teachers and staff." Claus, who is a reading teacher, said the board seemed willing to substitute its judgment of an academic program for that of its professional staff.

This week, Claus said, "Among teachers, there is a concern that is a trend they are seeing...If you fear your boss or your CEO or board of directors doesn’t think you’re doing a good job, it affects the way you feel about your work.

O’Connell said she sees the GTA support as "an acknowledgment that, in the past three years, I’ve worked as a partner with the Guilderland staff."

She went on, "I view school board members and the community and staff as partners. I don’t ever want to see that turned into an adversarial relationship as it is in so many school districts."

O’Connell, a lawyer, also said, "I’m my own woman...There’s no quid pro quo here," meaning no exchange. She said she would not have accepted the endorsement if something were expected of her in return.

Towle-Hilt said that O’Connell had not voted one way in her term on the board, but weighed each issue individually.

"Even within the teachers’ union, teachers have different ideas about topics," said Towle-Hilt. "We are all thinking human beings."

She went on about the GTA members, "They haven’t given me any checklist. Nobody’s ever interviewed me, except for you," she told The Enterprise. With its support, said Towle-Hilt, "The GTA is saying, ‘You’re open-minded, flexible, and willing to listen.’"

She went on about herself and O’Connell, "We definitely value the public education system. We know there’s a balance here between what we want and what we can do...We don’t have a preconceived agenda. Colleen and I have never had a conversation about specific issues."

GTA endorsement

Melissa Mirabile, the founder of Guilderland Parents Advocate, wrote a letter to the Enterprise editor this week endorsing Fraterrigo, Fraher, and Kelly.

The GPA has endorsed candidates since 2004. GPA-endorsed candidates who have been elected include: Fraterrigo, Peter Golden, Denise Eisele, and Hy Dubowsky.

The group was formed by parents who were frustrated with their children’s struggles to read. The group, three years ago, pushed for changes in the reading curriculum and for a board advisory committee on reading. The school board at the time held firm in backing staff on the current curriculum and only Fraterrigo voted for establishing an advisory committee.

The GPA has since expanded its focus, as described by Mirabile at the start of her letter this week.

In past letters to the editor announcing GPA endorsements, Mirabile has lauded the selected candidates. She did so this year, too, but she also criticized the candidates who were not selected. A number of the letters to the editor endorsing Fraterrigo, Fraher, and Kelly also criticized O’Connell and Towle-Hilt.

"We’re not running a negative campaign," Kelly told The Enterprise on Tuesday evening, saying she also spoke for her running mates. Of her opponents, she said, "The other two candidates are wonderful people who are very generous with their time. We don’t want to denigrate anyone. We want a civilized campaign as they have been in other years. We hope people will look at our qualifications and vote based on that."

Kelly said that she, Fraher, and Fraterrigo had called each other after reading a copy of the GPA endorsement letter.

On Tuesday night, Fraterrigo echoed Kelly’s thoughts that the group was opposed to negative campaigning.

She said of O’Connell, "Both Colleen and I have a record people can judge us on...I don’t see how you can say anything negative about Gloria. She doesn’t have a record; she’s a nice person....I hope people will judge Carolyn, John, and Gloria on their statements and plans for the future."

Fraterrigo concluded of the GPA, "We certainly welcome their endorsement."

On Wednesday, Fraher said, "We’re grateful that the GPA group endorsed us. We would like to keep a positive campaign and get elected on our own merits."

Towle-Hilt told The Enterprise Tuesday that she had seen a GPA e-mail that said, with the endorsed candidates being elected, "They would have the votes they need to do certain things." Towle-Hilt said, "That scares me — taking control of the board."

She went on, "The greatest thing about democracy is we get people together who disagree and work out a solution."

Mirabile told The Enterprise yesterday that she had sent an e-mail to the GPA database, along with election flyers of the endorsed candidates, and the letter of endorsement, which she also sent to The Enterprise as a letter to the editor. (See opinion pages.)

The e-mail said, in part: "We have, as a group, made great strides in opening up the channels of communication with our school administrators and our Board of Education, and this next election will be the pivotal point for progress. We have moved from having one receptive elected official to at least four now on a board of nine. With this election, we can move forward to having the kind of thoughtful, intelligent, and responsive board we as parents and taxpayers deserve. Never before have we been as close as we are to seeing this happen and never before have we had such talented candidates to endorse."

Mirabile told The Enterprise yesterday, "We have never intended nor do we have any desire to be a negative force in the community. We strive for positive change."

Mirabile said the reason she wrote about the comments Towle-Hilt made in last week’s issues interview with The Enterprise is because the parents who talked to the school board about their children’s failure to read took "great personal risk and went through emotional turmoil to come forward and put themselves in the center of a controversy."

Towle-Hilt had said parents may not have gone through all the appropriate avenues. "It kind of jumped right to the board," she said. She also said her experience as a teacher had been "When a parent comes and says something isn’t working, people bend over to solve it."

"I feel badly when misrepresentations have been made of these parents," said Mirabile. "They had done a great deal of work before coming to the board"The community needs to know what actually happened."

Mirabile concluded of the GPA, "The history of our group with our district and our board of education is there hasn’t been open communication"Changes came as we got more involved in looking at the political process. Some board members have been clear they are interested in listening to the community"As a community-based group, we support them."

Towle-Hilt objected to the statement in Mirabile’s letter that she would have a conflict of interest. "She doesn’t know me. She’s never even talked to me. Because I’m a teacher, I’m supposed to think and act a certain way," said Towle-Hilt.

She concluded, "Being a social-studies teacher, I really have a lot of faith in the democratic process. The community will make a decision it wants to live with and I respect that...Thank God we have a free press. The community needs to hear...I rely on the fact we live in a community of intelligent, fair-minded people."

Fraterrigo in five-way race for three seats

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Barbara Fraterrigo, who has been on the Guilderland School Board for 10 years, is seeking re-election with the goal of extending opportunities for "every kid to excel to the best of their abilities."

Describing herself as "patient" and "quietly persistent," Fraterrigo said it has taken a decade to realize some of her goals. For example, she said, she wanted students to learn lifesaving skills like CPR and first aid in school.

"We’re finally beginning that this year with an elective block in high school phys. Ed.," said Fraterrigo. "The kids are very enthused by it."

She’s also pleased that the Foreign Language Early Start program, to introduce Spanish in the primary grades, is included in next year’s budget proposal.

"Not only does introducing a second language help students culturally, said Fraterrigo, who has pushed for the program for eight years, "but it helps them learn their own native tongue."

Fraterrigo was out of the country last week when The Enterprise interviewed the other four candidates, running for three seats in the May 15 election, about a half-dozen issues. She spoke to the issues this week.

Being a school-board member, said Fraterrigo, is a "balancing act."

Asked about which constituency had her primary allegiance, and given the example of choosing between combining English and social-studies supervisor posts at the high school as recommended by the superintendent this year to save $65,000 or maintaining the two posts as the faculty requested, Fraterrigo said, "Yes, we could save $65,000, but at what cost" I strongly advocated maintaining the two posts."

With the turnover in the staff, she said, "It’s critically important to have someone certified in the field." Teachers, she said, are the district’s greatest strength and they need to be mentored. "Our students could potentially suffer," she said, if teachers aren’t properly supervised.

"The students cannot be successful if they don’t partner well with teachers, parents, and community members," she said.

Fraterrigo also said that she "certainly" supports the proposed $82 million budget. "It’s well-crafted," she said, noting she raised some objections along the way. "It’s a democracy, you listen to the people, and take a vote and that’s that."

She noted that she had voted against hiring a technology supervisor at this point. "I wanted to wait until we got the EXCEL program started...I tend to be a bit of a penny pincher," she said.

Fraterrigo also said, "I’m a show-me type person." She said that, although she is "always for enrichment," she voted against the middle-school enrichment teacher because what that teacher would do wasn’t "fleshed out." And, Fraterrigo noted, she was "very supportive" of the additional technology course for sixth-graders. "We’re in the technology age," said Fraterrigo.

She also said about school security, "In light of recent happenings, I would advocate for full-time door monitors...I know it would be a cost, but it would be worth it if it protected one child from harm."

On the qualities needed in a new superintendent, Fraterrigo said, "I certainly would be looking for a leader with a vision...one that has good writing and communication skills and a history of collegiality with staff and employees." The new superintendent, she said, should also listen well.

As far as the superintendent’s relation to the school board, Fraterrigo said, "The superintendent is the only direct employee of the school board. He is not a voting member by law. He works closely with the board and advises us...In the end, it’s up to the school board to thoughtfully reflect on the administration’s views and see how closely they align with the citizens’ views. The board has to weigh and measure and proceed from there."

On the teachers’ contract to be negotiated in the upcoming year, Fraterrigo said, "Right now, we’re in the middle of the salary range for the Suburban Council districts. We need to maintain a good teaching staff...

"On the other hand, we’ve heard from the Citizens’ Budget Committee that raises have exceeded the cost of living. We’ll have to carefully consider the needs of the taxpayers and the needs of the students. You don’t want a brain drain of the teachers because our salaries are not competitive."

Fraterrigo went on, "This will take thoughtful reflection. In the old days, the benefits to teachers for health and retirement were because their salaries were so low." Salaries have gone up, she said, and health-care costs have "skyrocketed."

On Guilderland’s reading curriculum and recent complaints about it from several parents, Fraterrigo said, "I think the board really does have a role in responding to parents’ complaints....Over the years, I’ve been identified as a listener....I’ve heard from so many people, particularly in special ed. areas, to look at the reading program....

"Are we giving enough money to our staff so they are appropriately trained for these situations" Do we need to have more remedial reading teachers""

Fraterrigo said she had done some research on dyslexia and learned, "Specific methodologies allow a dyslexic person to be very successful." She went on, "I’d like to see us with trained people to offer these modalities. One of my main emphases has been to work to get every child to whatever potential they can reach."

Responding to comments made by Chris Claus, the president of the teachers’ union, about "a chilling message of distrust" sent by board members substituting their judgment about an academic program for that of professional staff, Fraterrigo said, "No one said teachers had failed students. They felt the system could have done more...

"When Chris said we’re getting political, that surprises me. The union endorses candidates every year. If that isn’t political, what is" The parents are just saying that there are other methods out there. They want their kids to achieve at a higher level."

Fraterrigo said she would like to see parents on curriculum cabinets. "It brings a fresh perspective," she said. Referring to another board member, she went on, "Colleen O’Connell says it’s important to have members on the board with kids in school; that’s valuable. It’s also important to have as much input as we can from the community."

Fraterrigo concluded of the board, "We are the conduit for people to express their points of view. The reading curriculum keeps surfacing...We need to investigate...collegially with the teachers and administration....If it takes more money to hire more teachers or have more professional development, I’m all for that."

Finally, Fraterrigo served on the committee that studied the length of the school day but came up with no recommendation. She called it "the most frustrating" committee she had served on. "It was like an amoeba," she said. "You push on one thing and it squirts out another part."

She went on, "The only way we can change in our own district is the starting time of the elementary day, which will involve negotiating with the teachers’ union. The trend nationwide is to increase the length of the elementary day. The learning needs have skyrocketed from the days of yore. The kids are capable of it; they embrace it."

Fraterrigo served 10 years ago on the early childhood advisory committee and recalled the committee found it would cost $350,000 at a "bare minimum" to move from the current half-day to a full-day kindergarten program.

She estimated the cost would be at least double that now and termed it "expensive."

"The state will mandate it probably in the next five years," said Fraterrigo, noting that parents in two-income families "really want a full-day program now."

"You’re going to have to come up with the bucks," said Fraterrigo, concluding, "I don’t think, at the moment, we can jump the gun...There are so many other demands and needs we have to fund....

"It breaks my heart when I see all the things we’ve lost at the high school over the course of my 10 years. Children are our greatest natural resource."

McElligott at GES
Young authors learn from a pro

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The 14 kids at the table in the back of the Guilderland Elementary School library looked more earnest than the author they admired. Matt McElligott fielded their questions last Thursday morning with wit and whimsy.

He was spending the bulk of his day at the school as part of its Young Authors celebration.

The kids took turns reading questions from their notebooks, and took copious notes on his answers.

"What’s your favorite author"" asked Elizabeth.

"That’s like saying, ‘What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream"’" replied McElligott. He did say he liked reading Daniel Pinkwater, and spelled his last name, upon request. "He writes very funny books for all different ages," said McElligott.

Similarly, when asked about his favorite book, McElligott said, "I have a bunch of books that I really like."

And, likewise, when asked who was his "big idol" when he was young, McElligott said he got support from many, and named his parents and his teachers.

And, when asked, "What’s the favorite part of your job"" McElligott answered, "I can’t pick one thing."

"What’s the most frustrating part of illustrating"" asked Courtney, and a specific answer followed.

"Illustrating is a lot slower than writing," said McElligott. "I can write a sentence and, bing, that thing happens." He said it takes him a month or two to write a story but six or seven months to illustrate it.

McElligott has used different kinds of drawings in his children’s books. The Truth About Cousin Ernie’s Head, in which a boy discovers old family arguments at Thanksgiving, is illustrated with acrylic paintings. Uncle Frank’s Pit, in which an eccentric uncle prolongs his visit by digging for treasure in the backyard, uses computer illustration.

And, McElligott’s latest book, Backbeard and the Birthday Suit, about a hairy pirate who gets fancy new clothes, is illustrated with a collage of wild fabrics his mother had collected for quilting.

McElligott said he often has friends pose for him and he is always looking at other books and pictures for ideas. He stressed, "Looking for ideas is different than copying."

"Do you always agree with your publisher"" asked Joey.

"No, no, not at all," came the swift reply. "The publisher is looking for what will sell."

He went on, though, to give an example of a publisher who said his book had too many words for a picture book. "I thought everything was necessary," said McElligott. "Now I think the book is stronger because it just has the important parts."

"What made you get started on your first book"" asked Rachel.

In the early 1990s, said McElligott, he was killing time in a bookstore, waiting for his wife, when he felt inspired to write one.

"Did you ever doubt a book you wrote and then it turned out to be a big success"" he was asked.

"I think I doubted all my books," McElligott replied. "You know that voice in your head"" he asked as several kids nodded. "It never goes away," he said.

"What does it feel like to be rejected"" asked a girl taking detailed notes.

"It’s tough, because, if you write a story and send it off to the publisher...you start to think, ‘Maybe it’s not very good,’" confided McElligott. "Uncle Frank was rejected six or seven times and it became one of my most popular books."

Romano’s four-lot subdivision gets preliminary approval

By Jo E. Prout

GUILDERLAND — The planning board here last Wednesday gave preliminary approval to Lisa Romano for her subdivision request for lots bordering the Watervliet Reservoir.

Romano owns 14.7 acres on Route 158, which is to be cut into four lots. One has her existing home, and three others are future home sites. The property is zoned for three-acre lots; the proposed lots range from 3.03 to 4.2 acres. Two lots will share a driveway on Route 158, where a second driveway for a third lot will also be installed. One driveway will enter Route 20.

Planning board Chairman Stephen Feeney said that the board would delay final approval until the plan had been reviewed by the Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency that oversees wetland regulations. Two of the proposed septic plans do not meet the town requirement of a 500-foot setback from the creek, but they both slope away from the water. Feeney hesitated to give final approval before the Army Corps approved the plan.

"If it changes, we’re modifying the map," Feeney said.

Tim Elliott, Romano’s representative, reminded the board that state law requires only a 300-foot setback for septic tanks from reservoirs, "which is why Albany County [Department of Health] approved it," he said.

"Your wetlands on this map are about as rough as any I’ve seen in a long time," board member Lindsay Childs told Elliott. Childs said that the wetlands were delineated by straight lines on the map.

Feeney, who had walked the site earlier that day, described one portion as "a continual wetland." Feeney said that the board needs to see designs for the wetlands on the map.

Rather than give final approval and hold a second public hearing to change the map, the board agreed to give preliminary approval. A basic change after preliminary approval would not require a second public hearing, Feeney said.

"I’m not going to require something the Army Corps’s not going to require," Feeney said. He said that the lots are probably large enough that the wetlands will not affect the building envelope. The principal issue with the application, he said, is the driveway crossing.

Romano told The Enterprise that, from Route 20, the driveway crosses seasonal wetlands and culverts will need to be installed.

Feeney told Romano to show a cross-section of the driveway on the plan.

The preliminary approval was conditional upon the creation of a 50-foot no-disturbance zone on the eastern boundary of the Watervliet Reservoir, and notification of the Army Corps of Engineers.

At its final April meeting, the planning board also approved, with no conditions, the request by Mohawk Village Apartments at 1-5 Okara Drive to cut off an existing home from the complex. Representative Frederick Clark said that an easement to access the back apartments would be granted.

DeLong to serve on rural referral committee

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — With Chris Marshall now sitting on the village board, Mayor James Gaughan has appointed a new citizen member to the Rural Guilderland Referral Committee to take her place.

Scott DeLong, a resident of the same development that Marshall lives in, Kushaqua Estates, is Gaughan’s choice. Having someone from that development offers an important perspective on the committee, Gaughan said on Wednesday. DeLong also has the right personality, skill level, and commitment to serve on a committee made up largely of professionals, he said.

The committee was created by Guilderland town law in 2005. Any proposal for land in Guilderland that is within 1,200 feet of Altamont’s border or its infrastructure is first reviewed by the committee. If the committee disapproves of a project, it needs a supermajority from the town’s planning or zoning board to pass.

DeLong, a letter carrier for the post office, is looking forward to being a part of the community, beyond saying hello to neighbors on the street, he told The Enterprise. Five years ago he was looking for a rural community where he could raise his son, he said, and settled in Altamont. Serving on the committee will be a learning process, he said, and a new voice might also help the panel.

When asked yesterday about the process for choosing a new citizen representative, Gaughan said, "I chose him." When asked if he had chosen DeLong from among a group of possible appointees, Gaughan said, "No, no. I chose him just as I chose other committee members that are in existence or are not in existence any longer."

Other business

In other business, the village board:

— Heard from Harvey Vlahos, a former village trustee, that he would like to see the board vote on a resolution he proposed at his last village board meeting, in March. The resolution states that, historically, campaigns for political office in the village have been run on no more than $500 and that expensive campaigns have a negative effect on the village’s character.

During the last mayoral election, Gaughan raised about $7,000 and defeated Vlahos for the office in a four-way race.

Vlahos proposed that the information outlined in his resolution should be given to any person who seeks office in the village. Following Vlahos’s presentation, three village residents told the board that they do not feel money effects the outcomes of elections in the village.

The three people who spoke were Eileen Dean; Norman Bauman, who donated to Gaughan’s campaign; and Judy Walters Dineen, mother of Trustee Kerry Dineen, who ran on Gaughan’s slate two years ago. The board did not discuss or vote on the resolution;

— Voted unanimously to appoint two new part-time police officers to the village’s department. Gerardo Conti and Christopher M. Laurenzo will be on probation for one year, during which they will be paid $15 per hour. After their probationary year, they will be eligible for a raise to $16 per hour;

— Voted unanimously to appoint Kevin Delligan as a full-time employee of Altamont’s department of public works. He will have a probationary period of one year and he will be paid $12.65 per hour;

— Heard from Keith Lee, co-chair of the village’s parks committee and Mayor Gaughan’s partner, that the cleanup in Orsini Park and Angel Park are complete and that there is a new green space at Maple Avenue and Bozenkill Road.

He also said that there are 500 daffodils in bloom at the Maple Avenue Park and that the Altamont Community Tradition’s green-and-clean event will be on May 5. Organizers plan to meet at the gazebo in Orsini Park at 10 a.m.;

— Heard from Bauman, a village resident and president of Altamont’s neighborhood association, that Safety Day was a success. Gaughan added that the town of Guilderland will soon be holding its own safety-day event;

— Heard from Bob Thomson, a village resident, who thanked Anthony Salerno, the village’s public safety commissioner, for helping him get to the hospital recently;

— Voted unanimously to accept a proposal for the construction of a 10-by-16-foot gazebo for Bozenkill Park prepared by Michael Hammond, who owns a woodworking business and is Knox’s supervisor, at a cost of $3,700; and

— Voted unanimously to enter into a shared-services contract with the town of Guilderland to use the services of Donald Csaposs, who will spend about four hours a week identifying and structuring grant applications for the village for $3,000 per year. He will start on June 1.

Next stop, library
Grants circulate to help books move

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — Three state grants will help finance the Altamont Free Library’s move from a bank basement to a permanent home across the village green in the old train station — a $1 million project.

Thursday night, Assemblyman Jack McEneny announced that the library will get $65,685 for wiring, air conditioning, and heating; $4,523 to hook up to the municipal sewer system; and $50,000 for capital improvements to the building.

"Government grants should go to things that are very utilitarian," he said to the three dozen people who had gathered at Village Hall to learn about the library’s plans.

Work will likely begin on the train station this spring, said Judith Wines, the librarian. Some government grants require that work begin within 180 days after the grant is made, she said last Friday. The library will take up residence in the new building by early 2010, she said.

Plans for the new building were also unveiled at the Thursday night meeting. Preserving the character of the train station is paramount, Wines said. One of the reasons the library chose its architecture firm, Argus Architecture and Preservation, is because of the firm’s experience with historic preservation; the firm also has a history of working with non-profit organizations, Wines said.

The library plans to keep the outward appearance of the 19th- Century train station the same as it is now. "So it’s instantly identifiable as a train station," Wines said.

"Not only are we making a great library, we’re preserving an important historical building," said Linda Cure, the library’s part-time development coordinator. She’s open to ideas for fund-raising, she said; the library needs donors. Melanie Jakway, co-chair of the capital campaign council, offered several ideas for fund-raising, including an annual gala or golf tournament.

So far, the library has raised about $100,000 for the project, Wines said. "One of the things I’m most excited about is it will have natural light," Wines said of the new space. The library is currently housed in the basement of Key Bank, where it has been since the 1970s. Before that, it was in various buildings around the village. The train station, which the library bought in 2005 for $250,000, will be a permanent home. Of the train station, Wines said, "To use is to preserve."

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